Preempting Washington, Gates Cuts Pentagon Budget
Preempting Washington politicians looking for easy ways to close the deficit and reduce the debt, the Pentagon is trimming its own budget. Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced he will close a base, reduce the number of generals and take other measures to slim the military. The New York Times reports:
Mr. Gates did not place a dollar figure on the total savings from the cutbacks, some of which are likely to be challenged by members of Congress intent on retaining jobs in their states and districts. But they appear to be Mr. Gates’s most concrete proposals to cut current spending as he tries to fend off calls from many Democrats for even deeper budget reductions, and they reflect his strategy of first trying to squeeze money out of the vast Pentagon bureaucracy.
While large headquarters have been combined and realigned over the years, Pentagon officials could not recall a time when a major command was shut down and vanished off the books, even though some jobs will probably be added elsewhere to carry on essential parts of the mission.
The Wall Street Journal estimates the cuts could save $100 billion over five years. I have no way of evaluating the impact of the actual cuts. But the strategy seems brilliant to me — and I would not be surprised to see other departments and agencies doing the same and cutting themselves before Washington does the cutting for them.
Fred Kaplan, at Slate, throws on some cold water, though, noting that Defense has a whole lot to cut and should anticipate further budgetary scrutiny going forward:
The steps Gates took today have far-reaching implications; I don’t mean to minimize them. But there are other issues and questions that tap more deeply into the foundations of what he himself calls our “cumbersome and top-heavy” military, which has “grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost.” For instance: How many submarines and aircraft carriers does the Navy really need? And do all those carriers need the same number of aircraft and escort ships? How many fighter planes does the Air Force really need? How many brigades does the Army really need?
Gates’ new reforms are based on two premises: First, that the nation can’t afford unceasing growth in the defense budget; second, that the nation can afford moderate growth in the defense budget, as long as the Pentagon shows good faith by slashing what any objective observer would label “waste.” The first premise is unassailable, the second probably too optimistic. The fact is, we can’t afford growth in the defense budget, period. To get the cuts he’s after, Gates — as a matter of political realism — has to leave the rest of the budget alone. But at some point, some secretary of defense is going to have to open it all up to scrutiny.